I always knew my son would be exceptional, but I never knew his struggles would be so monumental. His first year of preschool was the year his father and I separated, so we were quick to assume his adjustment period was understandable and temporary. Not only did his troubles not pass, they got worse. Much worse.
This type of milestone is usually joyous, however I soon began receiving phone calls from his preschool on a daily basis. I began to take notice that my son’s tantrums were more severe than what would be considered typical for his age group. He would scream, cry, flail his body, stomp his feet, punch his arms, suffer night terrors, display separation anxiety, and throw furniture. Under extreme distress, he would scratch his own arms and face.
As a young (and dumb) mother, I would often absorb the advice of others too quickly. Many people, including our first family therapist, assumed we needed to make some changes and that I needed to be a stronger disciplinarian. In the spirit of always having room to grow as a parent, I can say consistent discipline is definitely part of the equation of treating children with special needs, but it isn’t an end-all solution. As the years passed, I watched him closely as we worked through hands on play therapy, social skill development, emotional regulation practice, and clearer communication. We made dietary changes, reduced screen time, established routines, tried vitamins and supplements, followed through with consequences, held family meetings, sought a second opinion from a licensed counselor, and increased physical activities. We knew for certain that no matter the outcome, we wanted to exhaust every natural resource available to us before ever considering medication. Our son saw a pediatrician, an allergist, a school psychologist, and family therapist and was ultimately referred out for a behavioral health evaluation. We pursued this, but still no answers came.
As our son grew older, he matured out of some of his maladaptive behaviors only to see the emergence of new ones. His primary years were increasingly difficult, often limited by the scope of his teachers and mentors. We worked hard in therapy and had good days here and there, but we just weren’t seeing the progress we were hoping for. His outbursts were growing increasingly worrisome, although his grades never slipped. In general, our son is attention seeking, active, impulsive, sensory seeking, disruptive, emotional, insightful, and extremely intelligent. He shows a lack of restraint but never a lack of remorse, persistent repetition of words or actions, memory loss and mood swings. He generally demonstrates a proclivity toward anger and lacks social skills. He experiences sleep disturbances, appetite changes, aggression (this is very rare these days – thank goodness), low self-worth and has even talked openly of suicide on more than one occasion.
It goes without saying that our love and worry for our son put an enormous strain on our family dynamic. Not only was I faced with the grief of acceptance, but I had the public school system leaning into me one on side, while his father was pushing in the other direction. Suddenly, I found myself with three thorns in my side. I felt stranded in the middle, and I knew the only way I could cope with this would be with some form of healthy detachment. I knew I needed the relief of a slight emotional unhinging in order to face my son’s behavior as objectively as possible, rather than take it personal. I knew I had to a find a way to apply my professional experience as a Behavioral Therapist to my personal life without having a complete and total nervous breakdown. I knew I needed to advocate for my son free from the opinions of others. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I have been completely successful, because that’s just not true. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made, or how many nights I’ve cried in my bathroom nauseous with worry. Still, circumstances in which you feel that you have no choice will teach you just what you are capable of. Fortunately for all of us, I was designed to advocate for mental health.
Suspecting Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD), and possibly Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I went to his teachers with a plan. As a mother, I have started every school year by gently approaching, reassuring and thanking my son’s teachers. I do this for three reasons.
1.) I recognize that they have the most important and most underappreciated job in the world.
2.) I realize that my son can be difficult.
and 3.) I want them to know early and often that they can always come to me to voice their thoughts and concerns.
This concerted effort has served us in more ways than I can iterate. Likewise, we have learned the absence of this unified front comes with enormous consequences.
In speaking with his teachers, we soon began to investigate every possible solution without a formal diagnosis. We discussed the problem behavior we were observing, potential triggers, possible areas of change at home and at school, guidance strategies, positive reinforcement, motivation, social skills development, counseling, occupational therapy, accommodations, ARD committee meetings, more therapy, more dietary changes, and more consistency. (I soon learned that despite our best efforts, our nation’s public school system does a great disservice to children with special needs specifically, and all children in general.) Toward the end of his 2nd Grade year, we finally began to see the upswing of all of our hard work.
Our son has grown immensely in the last year, and he deserves the credit. Many of his extreme behaviors have diminished – praise God! However, he still displays some neurological symptoms like facial tics, as well as an inability to self-regulate or integrate socially. This will be addressed at our Doctor’s appointment next week at Moore Mental Health & Behavioral Services where our son will finally be evaluated and diagnosed. We will all be given the opportunity to remain instrumental in mapping out a treatment plan that best suits our family. Naturally, we have all kinds of mixed emotions about this. Still, I feel this is the next step in armoring our little one with all the support he can possibly receive from the vantage point of long over due relief and early intervention in the face of his emotional turmoil.
In the meantime, I would love to hear from parents in similar situations. Do you have concerns for your little ones that extend beyond the realm of typical worry? What is challenging you the most right now? How has ADHD or other sensory disorders impacted your life?
In closing, we must remember that decisions surrounding mental health and our loved ones are never easy. We must remember to pull together through education and support rather than stigmatizing one another through harsh criticism. We must remember there should never be shame attached to seeking help.
You’re not alone.
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!